Western Washington University’s (WWU) Theatre Arts Program educates and trains emerging actors, writers, directors and theater technicians. Each summer as part of Western Summer Theatre (WST) these artists get the chance to practice their craft immersively, on stage and behind the curtain. While on break from classes, often alongside their accomplished professors and with thespians visiting from around the world, these students explore their creativity and test the skills they learn in the classroom. This gives the Whatcom County community and out-of-town visitors the chance to experience a variety of once-in-a-lifetime productions indoors and out.
I first heard of this program in 2000 when I worked as a staff at the WWU Chemistry Department. Several faculty and staff had been attending the productions together for over a decade.
The four productions below showcase both traditional and eclectic new plays, musicals and dance performances. Get your tickets for one or all that will be performed at a variety of venues both off-campus and on.
FREE Commedia in the Park
Maritime Heritage Park
Thursday, Friday & Saturday, July 18-20, 2019 at 6 p.m.
Their season begins in July with a gift to the community. WST will offer three free performances of Commedia in the Park. Commedia Dell’arte is an art form originating in Italy that uses masks to embody characters. Directed by WWU Professor of Acting and Movement Rich Brown, the Commedia performances unfold in Maritime Heritage Park, conveniently located in Bellingham’s Downtown Arts District. Street parking is free after 5 p.m. and in this park setting, you can enjoy the sea breeze off Bellingham Bay while experiencing a modern application of an ancient art form.
Graffiti Dance Theater
August 2-4, 2019 – three evenings at The Firehouse Performing Arts Center at 7:30 p.m.
August opens with Graffiti Dance Theater. Featuring themes of water, summertime, and self-discovery, this production showcases the narrative work of 6 choreographers and the contemporary theater dance company in residence at Western Washington University.
This year the company is made up of 15 dancers—current dance majors or graduates from the outlying community. Under the artistic direction of WWU Dance Professor Nolan Dennett, “Dancers and choreographers will explore sight, style v. substance, and an elegant estival promenade of the Olympian Gods.”
The Firehouse is conveniently located in Historic Fairhaven. I love this venue because it has a small town feel having been created in the village’s original fire station. Every seat is a good one here and the venue is approachable. You could arrive early and sit in the adjacent cafe or combine the show with dinner, drinks and a walk among the many shops full of local art.
WWU Performing Arts Center Mainstage
August 21 – 25, 2018–six evening and matinee performances at 2:00 and 7:30 p.m.
In August, the season really starts to sizzle with a new show every Wednesday beginning August 21. A stage adaptation based on the 1995 film by Lee David Zlotoff, Spitfire Grill follows a feisty parolee as she pursues her dreams, based on a page from an old travel book, to a small town in Wisconsin. There she finds a place for herself working at Hannah’s Spitfire Grill. It is for sale but there are no takers for the only eatery in the depressed town, so newcomer Percy suggests to Hannah that she raffle it off. Entry fees are one hundred dollars and the best essay on why you want the grill wins. Soon, mail is arriving by the wheelbarrow full and things are definitely cookin’ at the Spitfire Grill.
The musical won the prestigious Richard Rodgers Production Award by the American Academy of Arts and Letters in 2001. The Spitfire Grill also received Best Musical nominations from the Outer Critics Circle and Drama League, as well as two Drama Desk nominations.
WWU Performing Arts Center DUG Theatre
August 28 – September 1, 2019–six evening and matinee performances at 2:00 and 7:30 p.m.
Women all over the world began sharing their stories of sexual harrassment and assault through the #MeToo campaign. #HereToo developed from that movement, meaning if it happened to them, it is also happening “here in this community.” The #HereToo Project: The Intersection of Activism and Art is produced by Tectonic Theatre Project member Barbara Pitts McAdams and chronicles the first-person experiences of gun violence survivors and the work of young activists across the United States. Tectonic is known for devising plays based on things that happened in the real world like the Laramie Project – a play about the hate crime murder of Matthew Shepard.
A devised work is produced via collaboration within an ensemble through improvisation, sort of making it up as you go along. I studied improvisation for a just a few years and am continually impressed by the creativity that can emerge in an open environment. Ideas are generated by acting in the moment, based on suggestions. The toughest part would be choosing what to keep and what to let go of, and then somehow crafting that into a story with a beginning, middle and end, conflict, etc. to which we are accustomed. I’m excited to see what can be created and pulled off by this talented team.
Western Summer Theatre also has an associated group of community members known as the Friends of Western Summer Theatre that are volunteers and supporters of the company. These wonderful Friends help spread the word about the shows and offer opportunities to volunteer as ushers.
Be sure to mark your calendar, get your tickets and plan your trip to catch one or all of these interesting productions. You won’t want to miss a single step, note or word of these phenomenal performances.
Western Summer Theatre
Western Washington University Box Office
Want more Summer Activities?
- Downtown Sounds Enlivens the Summer Streets of Bellingham
- Catch Summer Outdoor Cinema in Bellingham and Whatcom County
- Celebrating Diversity at the Whatcom Cultural Arts Festival
- Wine Tasting, Beer Pairings and Whiskey Walks in Bellingham and Whatcom County
- Things to Do this Weekend in Bellingham and Whatcom County